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Why Do Vet Bills Cost So Much

veterinary bills You show me your bill, I’ll show you mine. My dog’s vet bills, that is. There are a few things that are generally off topic for this writer: Namely, politics, religion, and finances. The latter goes out the window when it comes to providing a service of disclosure and information for today’s modern pet parent. In the name of keeping dog moms and dads educated, we’re pulling back the “money” green curtain and dishing the dirt on how much that doggie in the window really costs.

How Much Is that Doggie (Vet Bill) in the Window?

The average price of a veterinary office visit in the United States averages around $50 to $55 dollars at a general practitioner. Veterinary specialists and emergency room visits are often higher, with prices as high as $250 just to be seen. Pets are viewed as property in the eyes of the law but as family members to most dedicated dog parents. Health insurance for pets isn’t the same as health insurance for people. I have been with my dog’s veterinary insurance carrier for over 20 years now. Years ago, I called to inquire about a claim and was told, “Your policy cost will fluctuate, Mrs. Bryant. Think of your dog’s insurance like car insurance: If you have more incidents, the rates go up.” Pet insurance excludes pre-existing conditions from coverage; most healthcare plans for people do the same. With veterinary insurance, pet parents will deal with a deductible, a co-pay, or both with most insurers. There may be a maximum limit on treatment for individual illnesses, or on the yearly or lifetime reimbursement.

knee brace ACL
Dexter and his custom orthotic ACL stifle brace.

Personal Experience

Long-time readers of Fidose of Reality know that our dog, Dexter, ruptured both anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL) of the legs in just over a year. Each rupture required surgery, and each surgery was costly. I would do whatever it takes for my dog, like most loving dog parents reading this. It is expensive to have ACL surgery performed. Case in point, as here is the bill for the operation performed in June, 2014, by a board certified veterinary orthopedic surgeon in Pennsylvania: veterinary bill  Veterinary insurance covered over 80 percent of the costs, I was reimbursed within a month, and my yearly premium only increased slightly.

Economic Euthanasia

No one wants to face the “how do I afford it” situation at the vet, but this happens every day, and it is a very serious and real epidemic. When vet bills are high and disposable income is low, pet parents are often faced with a dreaded decision. Faced with that situation, I’d sell my body parts to science if I had to and work as many jobs or gigs I needed to so my dog could be well. “It’s a very common issue unfortunately,” Dr. Michael Blackwell, senior director of Veterinary Policy for the American Humane Society, told CBS News in an interview. “How often a vet is likely to perform such a procedure is going to depend on a number of factors including the socioeconomics of the communities they serve. Consider this: At the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center in Dayton, Ohio, the rate of people seeking to euthanize their pets because they can’t afford treatment is rising between 10 percent and 12 percent a year, according to a report filed by USA Today. Consider 3 to 4 million pets are euthanized yearly in shelters, no doubt many of them wind up homeless due to health issues which are beyond the scope of a pet parent’s financial abilities.

global pet expo
Dexter with me at the Global Pet Expo.


At the annual Global Pet Expo, where I will be headed in a few weeks, the American Pet Products Association hosts a press conference to dish dollars. In 2014, it is believed that $15 billion dollars was spent on veterinary care in the United States by pet parents. Add another $14 billion to that for over-the-counter medications and other supplies. The numbers are staggering, but consider the costs of veterinary school, medical equipment, practice overhead costs, and discretionary spending on pets in many struggling American family households.

What Dedicated Dog Parents Can Do

If a dog enters your life, start saving in one way, shape, or form. Even with basic care, grooming, food, maintenance, and routine veterinary needs, dogs do cost money. More sophisticated medical care can easily skyrocket to thousands of dollars. Unlike human health care, there is no financial aid or Medicare insurance afforded to dogs. If you cannot afford the bill, you need to make arrangements with the veterinary practice in advance.

Pet Veterinary Insurance: Consider investing in a policy. I view our policy as catastrophe insurance or a great money saver if something “big” happens to my dog. It has, however, been incredibly helpful for routine care. As a twenty year policy holder, and having gone through cancer with my last dog along with many other ailments, I stand by my word.

Savings Account: Start a savings account for your dog. This can be as simple as an account at the bank or storing money away at home in the event of an emergency. I get incredibly aggravated when I read “keep your dog healthy to avoid vet bills,” because sometimes even the healthiest of dogs develop major problems. It’s true, though: Dogs who are obese, out of shape, and lead a very sedentary lifestyle are more likely to develop issues like diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and heart disease: All of these are costly to your pocketbook. Plan ahead and the next time you are at the vet office, consider that your dog, like you, needs medical care and with that, comes a cost. The rewards, as you will agree, are oh so incredibly worth it. medicine versus mom Check out the flip side of this and visit the My Kid Has Paws blog, where fellow pet blogger, Rachel Sheppard, dishes the reality of veterinary costs from a vet tech perspective. Do you have a savings for your dog? What has helped you with saving for emergencies and general care with your dog(s)?


  1. nancy says

    We are blessed with a vet that is below the average on price and offers that ability to make payments on large items. We’ve also been lucky to find a Reiki master who treats dogs affordable.

  2. Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady says

    This is so important. I have 6 animals in my house, and I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have a separate savings for them!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  3. Cathy Connolly says

    We too have had health insurance for our gang for over 20 years. I have found that the coverage is excellent and that if you purchase a policy when the animal is young the annual cost is very minimal. I had a 16 1/2 year old rescue who we got at 4 weeks old, over her life time we called her our million dollar dog. She too had the ACL surgeries a year apart and her last 3 years kidney failure. Her annual policy when she left us and went to Rainbow Bridge cost was $361, a drop in the bucket for the cost of her vet bills. I am a huge advocate for having health insurance for our pets. It is much better than a savings account or anything I could come up with, the value is priceless.

  4. Crepes says

    I feed my dog a quality diet to make sure she doesn’t get ill. Also, MomFOD gives her massages frequently to check for lumps and bumps and makes sure she gets an annual checkup to catch anything early. Also, I let her lick my ears, which allows me to check her breath and recommend frequent tooth brushing, as needed. Other than that, we save and save just in case. – Crepes.

  5. Groovy Goldendoodles says

    So true! I learned this first hand when Leo got sick. He was only at the hospital for 90 minutes, and his bill was ridiculous. Insurance is a must, and some savings tucked away is really a great plan. Also I might add, it’s a good idea when looking for a vet, to ask in the event of a catastrophic emergency if they have payment plans.

  6. Bailey says

    I think that vet costs are an important conversation for pet owners to have with each other and the general public, because people often don’t realize the costs involved. DH and I are blessed with amazing medical coverage, but we still get statements from a couple of the places we visit and if you actually see what it costs to see the medical professionals, not just your copays, it can blow the mind. Therefore I do find the costs for the vet care and the meds the dogs take to be more reasonable. Perhaps it is because I do come from that perspective.

  7. Robin says

    I don’t have a saving account for my cats, but I plan to start one. They are getting older which means that their risk of medical problems is going up. Thus far I have been very blessed and they haven’t really ever been sick.

  8. Gilligan says

    Great information. Thanks for being kind enough to share your bill! So far I have not had too much by way of expenses except for routine shots, which brought our last vet visit to about $150 including a topical treatment for my ears. Then again I am young yet. It’s sad reading about the Euthanasia option… Mama and Papa have an old pug friend whose Mama just decided to put him down… I was hoping to meet him. 🙁 This was done because his quality of life had turned to a much higher amount of suffering than pleasure for the foreseeable future, though, and not because of any financial issue, though the costs to keep him alive were and would have continued to be significant. *whimpers* – Gilligan from

  9. Berl says

    The author failed to identify the actual cause of the high vet bills. It’s amazing that people just assume medical bills have to be high. That’s an absurd assumption. The reason is simple: mandatory occupational licensing. It’s illegal in most if not all states to treat an animal without a license. If you eliminate all these laws, you will have a proliferation of wellness centers springing up. Let’s face it: to treat 90% of a cat’s issues is not rocket science. I’ll bet one could come up with a program to teach those 90% of illnesses in about 1 year or less. A little longer for dogs. And a college education isn’t needed either — you could do the training right out of high school. As it stands now, only wealthy people can afford sick or injured pets. time to get the govt out of the veterinary business.

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